As final exams approach and the sun sets earlier, more students will be walking to and from campus after sunset. The many construction projects around McGill’s campus make navigating the area more difficult and reduce the amount of well-lit areas for students to traverse. Consequently, McGill’s administration has a responsibility to increase the resources available to students who are made to feel vulnerable or unsafe and rethink the way security resources are used on campus. Not only do students have a right to be safe on campus, they have a right to feel safe as well.
The most basic issue regarding campus safety is lighting. The campus is poorly lit, and increasing visibility in common outdoor areas would make nighttime walkers feel safer on campus. In areas where construction has obstructed normally well-lit walkways, construction crews or the university could easily set up temporary lighting fixtures in darker, well-populated around campus. Construction on campus has also impeded access to the yellow emergency phones placed around the downtown campus. Making these more visible and accessible, especially near construction sites could help students feel safe at night.
Campus organizations like Walksafe and Drivesafe are important resources that become even more crucial during this time of year. The Walksafe program is an ideal solution for someone walking home from campus late at night, but it is also helpful for individuals who participate in the many drinking oriented events that take place in Milton-Parc during November and December. Likewise, Drivesafe can prevent many intoxicated students from freezing on their way home from a party, but can be equally useful for first-years who live in residences such as Solin who do not want to either make a frigid walk home or use public transit late at night. However, both of these programs are funded by students and run by volunteers whose work is too emotionally intensive to be done without pay. McGill should step up to work with the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) to fund both of these programs, as they are invaluable resources for students who are studying, partying, or just trying to get home safely.
The way McGill organizes campus security also has ramifications for student safety. McGill outsources its security needs to private companies, however, it also employs full-time security agents who patrol campus and work directly for the university. This means there is inconsistency in the training, experience, and skills security guards have which, depending on the event or circumstance, could pose a threat to student wellbeing. There is an acute lack of information regarding the training that McGill security officers receive on the campus public safety website, and security officers from private companies are often not equipped with active listening or de-escalation training. In addition, McGill’s campus safety office chooses to distribute these officers counterintuitively: More security officers seem to be present on campus during the day than at night, when safety becomes a heightened concern. The way McGill uses security officers as resources is telling: Currently, security guards seemingly work to protect McGill’s priorities, such as the white tents erected on the lower field earlier this semester, which had almost constant security. While events like these remain heavily guarded, students walking home from the library at night remain acutely vulnerable.
Security officers should protect students and student interests by acting as a resource available in times of need. Instead, their reputation on campus positions them as authority figures who will reprimand those that disrupt the sense of order set by McGill’s administration. This power dynamic is only intensified for racialized students. Security on campus is in many ways a form of policing that is packaged differently. As they currently exist, McGill security officers do not represent a viable resource for a racialized student to reach out to in a crisis situation. No matter the diversity of McGill’s security force, security guards, like police, are not immune to racially profiling people.
McGill needs to ensure that all of its security officers receive a uniform level of instruction, including active listening, de-escalation, and racial sensitivity training. Only this will give them adequate skills to serve McGill’s student body. In addition, McGill should seek to use its security resources more thoughtfully and, in doing so, let McGill students know that their safety matters. Finally, while it is certainly not the job of students to be campus security, all McGill students can create a safer environment by being careful, paying attention, and being active bystanders by helping those in need.